August 1, 2017

Mother and Baby Humpback Whales Breach in the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Humpback whale dorsal fin

[Naturalist Erick D., M/V Sea Lion, 7/30/17, 5:30PM]


On Sunday, our sunset cruise was one of the most beautiful sunsets all summer. Captain Mike and I took our group of guests south in San Juan Channel towards Cattle Pass and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We first stopped and saw some adorable Harbor Seals hauled out on rocks along the shoreline of San Juan Island. These Pacific Harbor Seals are the most common marine mammals in these waters and stay here year-round. Even so, I still love to see them because they are so cute and they also look straight back at you.


Next we went to kelp forest surrounding what are called Whale Rocks. These are two large rocks guarding the entrance to Cattle Pass that look like large whales coming up to the surface to breathe. There were even more seals here on the rocks and also a bunch swimming and even sleeping on top of the floating kelp! We also saw another pinniped on these rocks – a Steller Sea Lion! This one was still a juvenile, but even so he was larger than all the adult Harbor Seals. We usually don’t see these Sea Lions during the summer because they are all north on several beaches for mating season. This guy was probably too young to be successful this year so he decided to stay here! He will grow up to be part of the largest Sea Lions in the world and maybe even weigh more than a ton!


Next we started our search for Cetaceans (aka Whales) in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The strait is one of the larger bodies of water around the islands and is one of the two access points to the Pacific Ocean from the Salish Sea. The other is much further north at Johnstone Strait.


When you’re looking for whales you’re looking for blows looking like puffs of smoke shooting strait into the air, and any quick changes to the water’s surface indicating their bodies moving around.


We started our searching in some of the shallower areas along the Strait. These shallow areas (banks) are like submerged islands that force nutrients and plankton towards the surface. This brings small fish, which brings larger fish, which brings big animals like whales!


We searched for awhile, around Salmon Bank, then around Hein Bank further south, and I honestly was about to give up until…




A Humpback Whale breached! Twice! We went over to it and saw that it was not just one Humpback but a mother and her calf! The calves stay with the mothers for a year, so this one was under a year old, but still very large. They are born at about 10-15 feet long and then almost double in size during their first year. The mom humpback we identified as BCYukKeta2015#3 “Hydra”. This is the first time I had ever seen her, so it was exciting to meet a new whale and her new baby! We watched these two play for a little bit, breath, and fluke up for awhile as they made their way north towards San Juan Island.


Another great and surprising day of whale watching!


Naturalist Erick

San Juan Safaris